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(( Related: SWTOR Journal (Halonan) Comfort. The following is on my SWTOR smuggler, Captain Jacqueline “Jackie” Rees. ))

Jacqueline woke with the distinct feeling of another body laying next to hers. She turned over, finding Halonan asleep and unmoving. His utter exhaustion came as no surprise. Her eyes traced the new lines that etched his face. They were softer as he slept and deeper on waking, but she easily noted them regardless of whether he rested or rose. She knew those lines, ones that came not with the span of age, but mileage and experience. Much of her career relied on faces, every crevice and emotion etched upon them. A canvas into the mind and soul of an ally or adversary was written in the leather of faces. In Halonan�s, she saw many changes over the last few months. At this moment, she missed his token shit-eating grin. It was gone, banished at least for now, overcome by a deeper, matured wave of grief that overtook him and flooded her to her waist.

She laid there, watching him, seeing the chest tucked away somewhere beneath the folds of his shirt rise and fall. Her own clothes pressed against her uncomfortably. Lying there, she was struck by the oddity of them both and almost inspired to chuckle at herself: Two adults, fully capable of physical intimacy, and both with record numbers of past partners boasting such, and here they were, completing a full night�s embrace with touches no more intimate than hands on skin. Stolen glances by both of them hinted at the desire for otherwise, but neither acted on it. Instead, he sought comfort and companionship in her overnight and she readily granted it. Nights before, she sought it from him. It was a fortnight�s worth of such gentle favors, granted to one then the other, and both sought it more as more time was spent apart.

Recent words came to mind: Life�s too short. She could almost see those exact words written on his lips, he spoke them so frequently the night before. His voice carried a new determination. Voices too were canvases into minds and souls, often a cracked window should the face attempt to shutter intent deep inside. His voice took on new tones not tread before. Between his face and voice, Halonan Kybersmith completed the span of years by traveling only with his feet.

Carefully, Jacqueline extricated herself from the bed. Still, Halonan did not stir. Though tempted to touch him somehow, a hand to his face or lips to his brow, she kept at a distance. Her mind was already halfway to the cockpit before her feet took her there, preoccupied by the other tide threatening to break its dam. A message light blinked at her and taking up a headset, she pressed it against an ear and played the audio portion of the first message.

If you�re going to move, gotta do it soon, it was Cheska�s voice, sounding tense even over the static of the transmission. He knows, and he�s pulling them together for one last push. Proving that he�s up to taking over. Still working on the location, and hell, I know you told me not to get involved. But if he takes over, I�m screwed, too. So screw you and your do-it-alone habits. Will send you more when I got something.

She played back the message, this time quickly scanning the visual section of the recording, then deleted it. The look on Cheska�s face was the confirmation she needed. This dam was breaking, old rivals were staging a coup, and she either stood in the wake or atop the walls with eyes on the destruction below. 

She sent a text message back: Send me the coords when you have them. I�ll get the guns. We�ll move when we got both. Might make a run or two before then. Keep them scared. Keep away so you don’t get caught up in the blaster fire.

She played the second message, again listening only to the audio. A young girl�s voice spoke in her ears through the headset.

Mom, are you there? You said you�d pick up when I called you but you�re not here. Jacqueline winced as she listened, her mind�s eye on her young daughter sitting alone, Brembal no doubt lingering nearby, the child speaking to the silence on her mother�s line. Um, okay� The child continued, uncertain at first, but gaining momentum as she recounted the day�s minutes. I played with the navcomputer today. I didn�t like it too much. It had a lot of numbers I didn�t know. When we learned numbers in school, they said we learned all of them. But these numbers were really long and I didn�t know what they were called. I could read them, though. But the man used weird words like…

The child spoke in length, recounting moment-by-moment details of her day, yet disappointment still remained in her voice. It pulled at Jacqueline like a weight. She listened to the message in full, leaving the visual playback untouched. As it finished, she listened again, headset pressed against her ear, her eyes distant and vacant. 

Her hand absently moved along the bulkhead, pressing against a side panel. It opened with a small release of pressure, revealing an opened bottle of whiskey. The opening hiss made her halt, suddenly cognizant of her actions. Leaning back in her chair, she eyed the bottle, neglected for weeks, now called upon without thought. She stared at it, the adversary with no face of its own, yet the longer she glared at the bottle, the more clearly she could see her own reflection on the glass returning the same scathing gaze.

In one jerking motion, she snapped up, snatched the bottle, and strode straight to the refresher. Uncorking the bottle, she poured its contents down the drain, depositing it with the rest of the ship�s refuse, to be jettisoned before its next hop into hyperspace. Her arm crooked upwards, tempted and ready to hurl the empty bottle across the room, but Halonan�s rest and the unwelcome mess of broken glass stilled her rage. She set the bottle on the countertop. A swell of sudden exhaustion rose within her, the emotion clearly not aware of the recent full night�s sleep. Leaning over the countertop, she gritted her teeth against the tide then slowly straightened, readying herself. 

Returning to the bedroom, she glimpsed inside. Halonan slept still, the sight of him resting enticed her. There was a strange warmth to it she couldn�t quite describe. Yet as she leaned in the doorway, privy to such a peaceful moment, a restlessness overtook her. Her mind was halfway to the engine room before her feet caught up to it. Taking up a set of goggles and gloves, she set upon panel of chips and wires with a sudden ferocity, weaving and soldering new wires together, engineering new life into the broken machinery, burying herself in work till Halonan woke. In their morning conversations, her face told much but her voice said little. 

Life�s too short, words from the night before. But she eyed his weary face, heard his strained voice, and took to his waters as the tides of hers rose.

Author Ari
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